Training splits, also known as workout splits, are one of the most popular methods for structuring strength training routines, and it’s one of our favorites too! Iulia implements appropriate workout splits for the weekly goal-focused workout plans she creates for the Fit With Iulia app. But not everyone follows Iulia's goal-focused workouts (you can actually try them for free... but more on that later), and even if you do, it's important to familiarize yourself with this concept. Why? Because just like with many other approaches to fitness, one size doesn’t fit all. We all have different bodies, goals, and fitness levels, so if you’re interested in splitting your workouts or if you already do it but are not sure if you’re doing it correctly, don’t worry, we’re here to tell you all about training splits and how to properly implement them in order to reap all the benefits!
What are training splits?
Ever heard someone talking about “leg day” or “back day”? That person probably has training splits! This training method consists of “splitting” your workouts in order to train specific muscles or body parts each day, dedicating around one hour of your time to hit those specific muscles. Essentially, it's how you divide up your workouts throughout the week. By focusing on a handful of muscle groups at a time, you maximize your training and optimize muscle building and strength, allowing your muscles to rest for longer periods of time while you work out your other muscle groups. This is especially useful when your goal is to build muscle mass since you put more focus on each set of muscles, promoting hypertrophy and repair as well as fat loss. It’s also a great method for those who are trying to grow a specific muscle group like the arm muscles because you can target them more intensively with your strength training.
This is why it's important to have an effective workout split, it's your pathway towards a specific fitness goal! A workout program that doesn't have a specific split will result in poor results. Without a set plan you'll just spend countless hours a week working out in a manner that will get you nowhere. Implementing a workout split will allow you to exhaust your muscles with ample time to recover – and for those that don't know recovery and rest is crucial for better results!
How do you pick the best one?
As we said earlier, when it comes to strength or resistance training – one size doesn't fit all. We can't tell you what is the best workout split because it depends really depends on a few factors!
To help you find the best training split for you, here are a few things to consider:
- Training experience: Beginners, opposed to advanced lifters, require less volume and intensity in their workouts, but require greater frequency. So, depending on your experience you might find a three-day full-body workout routine work best, or higher frequency training (training 4 or more days a week).
- Fitness goals: Ask yourself, are you barely starting out and establishing a baseline of fitness? Maintaining? Trying to promote better muscle growth or fat loss? These questions will help you find the best way to implement your split.
- Amount of time you have: Some splits require you to work out 5-6 days a week, while others only require three days of training. So, knowing how much time you can dedicate to the gym will help you find the best split, but do know, that you will need to be willing to train at least three days a week.
- Recovery needs: Some people may need more or fewer rest days depending on their recovery abilities (like sleep and managing stress), lifestyle, and job. If you're feeling sore more often then it's best not to train 5-6x a week. The key is to listen to your body. Implement a split that has an appropriate amount of rest days needed to keep you physically and mentally ready for your next workout session!
- Your weakness: If there's a particular body part you want to improve on, you can prioritize training it after a rest day when your energy and glycogen stores are fully replenished. Plus, you can implement a higher frequency training split that will allow you to add two to three training sessions for the specific muscle group you're trying to grow.
Popular training splits
There are many ways to divide your workouts depending on your goals and your fitness level, so let’s go through some of the most common and best ones…
Upper Body/Lower Body Split
Just as the name indicates, with this basic upper and lower split you work out your upper body on one day and your lower body on another day. The most common plan for this split is working the upper and lower body two times a week, for example: on Monday and Tuesday you train upper and lower body respectively, rest day on Wednesday, repeat your split, then finally you rest until next week. This ensures that your muscles are activated and working while still getting the rest that they need!
Here's an example of what an upper body/lower body split looks like:
- Day 1: Upper body with a focus on pushing exercises (chest, triceps, shoulders). Aim for two exercises for each muscle group.
- Day 2: Lower body, but placing a greater focus on quad exercises like barbell squats and deadlifts.
- Day 3: Rest day, or active recovery.
- Day 4: Upper body with a focus on pulling exercises (back and biceps). Aim for 2-3 exercises for each muscle group.
- Day 5: Lower body with a focus on hamstring and glutes. Aim for 2-3 exercises for each muscle group.
- Day 6-7: Rest.
This split routine involves dividing your workouts into three days: upper-body pushing muscles, upper-body pulling muscles, and legs (lower body). This combination of the first two splits is a more dedicated one, focusing on even more specific muscle groups that support each other while targeting the legs on a separate day to really get your lower-body muscles working.
It's very similar to the above split but involves targeting every upper body muscle group twice a week instead of only once. Here's an example of what it looks like:
- Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps; 3 exercises each.
- Day 2: Back, biceps; 3 exercises each.
- Day 3: Legs, at least 4 exercises.
- Day 4: Chest, shoulders, triceps; 3 exercises each.
- Day 5: Back, biceps; 3 exercises each.
- Day 6: Legs, at least 4 exercises.
- Day 7: Rest.
Three-Day Split Workout
A three-day split workout involves doing three total-body workouts a week. This training split is typically best for beginners and for those that live a busier lifestyle, but still want to get a good workout in hitting major muscle groups. A full-body routine is great for beginners since they get your entire body working without it being too demanding on any particular muscle group while helping you establish a habit of working out. Then once adjusted to the routine, they can work switch to a different training split or continue following the three-day split. But this doesn’t mean full-body training is just for beginners! By adding some more exercises, heavier weight, and a few more sets and reps, full-body routines can be great for those at an intermediate to advanced level. It really just depends on each person’s lifestyle and their specific goals!
Something to keep in mind when doing total-body workouts is that you shouldn’t train two days in a row, at least not at a high intensity, because you’re probably working out the same muscles as the day before, and thus not giving them enough time to recover properly. With training splits, since you’re working out different muscles each day, you can work out consecutively as long as you’re giving your body enough time to rest between cycles. You also don't want to wait too long between workouts because you won't build upon your previous workout.
Here's an example of a full-body workout split:
- Day 1: All muscle groups. You can either do one exercise per muscle group or do two sets per movement pattern. The four movement patterns are squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling. Squatting could be doing any type of squats, leg press, or any lunge variations. Hinging involves deadlifts, hip thrusts, or any movement that involves hinging at the hips. Pushing movements involve pushing a weight vertically, like an overhead press, or horizontally, like a bench press. Pulling movements involve pulling a weight vertically, like pull-ups, lat pulldowns, or horizontally, like barbell rows.
- Day 2: Rest.
- Day 3: All muscle groups, following the same pattern above.
- Day 4: Rest.
- Day 5: All muscle groups, following the same pattern above.
- Day 6: Rest
- Day 7: Rest/active recovery.
Four-day split workout
This workout split allows you to train muscle groups extensively, meaning the volume and intensity of your training increase. The best way to follow this split is by grouping large muscle groups with smaller ones or pairing muscle groups that target opposing actions (like chest with biceps). It has three rest days which can be alternated however you like.
Here's an example of a 4-day workout split:
- Day 1: Back, biceps; 4 to 3 exercises each.
- Day 2: Chest, triceps; 4 to 3 exercises each.
- Day 3: Rest.
- Day 4: Legs, 5 exercises.
- Day 5: Shoulders, 4 exercises.
- Day 6: Rest
- Day 7: Rest or active recovery.
5-day split workout
Looking for more of a challenge? Another popular split is the five-day split, in which you work out each body part on each day, which means dividing your workout into chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs, with two non-consecutive resting days in between. Abs can be included with chest exercises as well as with back exercises. The catch is that the fewer muscles you train on each day, the more exercises and sets you need to do for each of them in order to really reap the benefits of this workout split.
Here's an example of a 5-day split workout:
- Day 1: Chest, 4-5 exercises.
- Day 2: Back, 4 exercises.
- Day 3: Shoulders, upper traps; 4-5 exercises.
- Day 4: Legs, 5-6 exercises.
- Day 5: Biceps, triceps; 3-4 exercises.
- Day 6: Rest.
- Day 7: Rest or active recovery.
There’s also the advanced six-day split in which you train chest, back, shoulders and arms but divide the legs into two different days, leaving the last day for resting. This training frequency is preferred by already very active people who have worked their way up and are looking to build a lot of muscle, such as bodybuilders and the more advanced lifters (like powerlifters). An important thing to remember is that everybody is different and our muscles have different recovery times, so body part splits like the 6-day training split or even a 5-day split is definitely not for everyone.
Training split rules
There are many things to take into account when splitting your workouts, but we’ve condensed the main ones into six key rules for you to consider when you’re incorporating training splits for the first time into your routine, or to keep in mind if you already follow this method!
These rules are:
- Work from big to small muscles
When splitting your workouts, make sure to start with the bigger muscles each day. Even though smaller muscles recover faster, training them puts a lot of pressure on their adjacent joints and you could risk wearing them out. These small muscle groups also work as secondary and tertiary movers, so if you start by focusing on muscles like the biceps, for example, they’ll be too tired to assist the bigger muscle that they support which is the back when it’s their time to train. Compound exercises are typically the best ones to start with because compound movements work the big muscles with the support of the smaller muscles, and then you can go ahead with isolated exercises to finish your workout!
- Don’t train muscles that support each other on different days
Training muscles that support each other on back-to-back days could put you at risk of overworking them, especially your smaller muscles. You don’t want to work out and fatigue your triceps if you’re going to be training chest the next day! This could seriously decrease your productivity, and then you’ll find yourself working out some muscles more than others throughout the week.
- Don’t skip training days
With training splits, you need to be consistent. If you’re used to full-body workouts, then you know that missing a day may not be the end of the world, since you already tackle every muscle group on each of your workouts. But with training splits, missing a day means missing the entire muscle group that you’re supposed to train that day and you could impair your progress completely. If you think that you can’t keep up with a demanding workout split, whether it’s because of time or because you don’t work out consistently, try reducing it to a two-day split or stick with a full-body routine instead! Or take into account if you have a hectic week coming up and choose to do a full-body split for that week and then go back to your regular training split once you have time.
- Get enough rest
Having an amazing workout routine set up means nothing if you don’t let your muscles recover properly after each day to prevent excessive soreness. And rest doesn’t just mean waiting between workouts, it also includes sleeping well and not engaging in physically demanding activities outside of your own routine unless you decide to incorporate them into your daily workouts - don’t forget that overkill is a real thing! Your muscles need time to recover after being under that much pressure, so be gentle with your body and rest accordingly!
- Start slow and work your way up
As you probably know by now, in the fitness world you must try everything at a slow pace, low intensity, and with lighter weights first before moving on to better and harder exercises. You must do this in order to activate your muscles to prevent injury and build a habit, so take your time to learn proper technique and build a base strength! When trying out training splits, start by splitting your workouts in two days, either with the push/pull or the upper/lower body split, and work your way up to three, four, and five-day training splits as you get stronger and more acquaintanced with the method.
- Keep intensity levels high
Since you’re focusing on different muscle groups each day, you need to work out at a higher intensity than you usually would with a full-body workout in order to really start noticing some progress. Having your training sessions on separate days means more recovery time for each group of muscles if you’re doing it correctly, so training at a high frequency is perfectly safe and actually recommended for training splits! Higher intensity means quicker and more effective results, just be careful with this and remember to work your way up!
There are several ways to get into training splits as we already showed you earlier, but whichever you choose, try to stick with it for about one or two months in order to see the results and see how it works out for you. If the split that you chose is too rough for you, don’t wait to change it, do it right away or lower the intensity to prevent any injuries. But if you see that it works out perfectly and it has the optimal level of difficulty, stick with it for a while in order to build your strength at that specific level, and then work your way up to more intense splits!
And while working out according to your fitness level and resting properly are two important pillars of building a healthy lifestyle and achieving your fitness goals, there’s a third one: healthy eating. So be mindful of what you put in your body if you’re looking to get in shape and build some muscle! Getting into a new training method is hard enough, so you don’t need to go all the way in with super healthy foods, instead, you can try to ease into it with these clever and healthy food swaps that we put together for you. With time you’ll start gravitating towards more healthy food choices by yourself and start seeing better results!
If you’re looking for a good training split routine and don’t know where to start, the Fit With Iulia app has you covered! It features goal-focused workouts with a proper training split planned by Iulia (@Fit.With.Iulia on Instagram) every week. There are six programs (4 gym programs and 2 home programs) to choose from, each designed with a specific fitness goal in mind. Plus, it has so many other cool features like progress tracking, macro tracking, videos + directions to help you with form, and all the workouts are available in offline mode, meaning you can download them to work out wherever without needing a WiFi connection!
Want to give it a try? You can try the first workout of any goal for free, no subscription required, just download the Fit With Iulia app, select Goals & Workout, and the first workout for any goal you select will be unlocked for you to try today!